What is meditation?
Meditation, as I teach it, involves training your mind to experience your life with three interconnected factors:
- Concentration Power – The ability to deeply focus on whatever you chose to put your attention on, letting distraction slip away.
- Sensory Clarity – The ability to deeply explore how it is to be you, by untangling and keep precise track of the various different aspects of your experience as they occur.
- Inner Equanimity – The ability to peacefully allow your experience to come and go, without friction, and without push or pull, and with loving spaciousness.
How do I get started with meditation?
One great way that I recommend getting started is to sit down in a manner that you feel you could comfortably hold for a few minutes without straining. Extending and straightening your spine, lift your chin so that it is parallel to the ground, and relax your face, your shoulders, your hands, and your belly. Calmly bring your awareness to the feeling of your respiration rising and falling in your lower abdomen, a couple finger widths below your navel. Intentionally choose to fill your awareness with the feeling of your breathing. Try to notice subtle sensation as you breathe – tiny muscular expansions and contractions, tingles, feelings of heat and warmth. Various things will pull your attention away – plans, ideas, sounds, things you see, preoccupations, aches and itches, and other phenomena. Each time they do, however, without fighting or straining, patiently and calmly bring your awareness back to your breathing. After sitting for a while, see if this simple exercise shows you something valuable about the way your mind works.
Can meditation help me to calm down?
Yes, meditation can, and will, help you to mellow out, chill out, and feel relaxed. Calmness is only one of many factors on the meditative path, however. As one develops in depth, calming down ultimately becomes less interesting and relevant than other deeper and more “spiritual” aspects of the meditative journey.
Is meditation an escape from life?
No. Meditation is a journey from the spinning hamster wheel of thoughts, worries, and distractions on which we are often caught, into the deep, living, beating, raw alive heart of life. Meditation is the exact opposite of an escape.
Do I have to sit on a cushion or on the ground or can I use a chair?
I consider sitting on the ground in a traditional meditative posture to be the most stable and therefore preferable way to sit for long periods of time, if one is physically able to. But I do teach a wide variety of meditation postures for people will all sorts of body types, including how to sit in a chair with spine straight and limbs open, and work with students individually to find a posture that suits them and that helps them to sit still while they open, deepen, and liberate.
Can anyone meditate?
I would be wary in teaching these methods to someone with an active psychosis, or is otherwise unable to mentally function in a remotely normal manner. Other than that, the meditation techniques and perspectives that I teach have been and can be helpful for any and all sorts of people. My eight week class has been enjoyed by men and women, a grandmother and a pre-teen, people of all races, all sorts of different vocations and economic backgrounds, and with wildly different levels of previous experience in meditation and other forms of personal growth.
How much time will meditation take?
People typically experience positive benefits with even tiny amounts of seated meditation – some students sit for just ten minutes, three days a week, and positive outcomes open up for them. As with anything, however, the more time a meditator gives to formal seated meditation practice, the more benefits that the meditation practice gives in return. And many meditators also find that time invested in meditating is returned many times over during the rest of life. One benefit is being more focused, efficient, and concentrated during all hours of the day. Also, meditation helps to drop the infinite number of unimportant things that grab at our attention and that we fill up our time with, and focus instead on what is deeply and truly important. In sum: the amount of time spent in a meditation practice is up to you, and devoting more time to sitting sometimes paradoxically has one feel like one has more time available in the day.
Is meditation a religious practice? Do you have to be a Buddhist to do Buddhist meditation?
I teach meditation from the perspective of the Buddhist tradition, and some comfort with that is probably helpful. The practice of awareness and mindfulness, both in general and how I teach it, are however compatible with any religious or belief system, or none at all. All are welcome.
Is there chanting or praying involved?
Mantra and Metta (loving-kindness) meditations are two of the practices that I teach and students practice in my classes, and both involve repeating or resonating with certain phrases. Both practices are something all of my students so far have been comfortable with, and both can be tailored to your spiritual tradition.
What happens in your eight week beginner's class?
The class consists of eight three hour sessions. In a typical three hour class, there are three meditation periods of ten to twenty minutes length each, and the rest of the time is devoted to lectures, Q and A, and class discussion.
What do you teach in your eight week beginner class?
For a specific listing of the subjects covered in lectures, as well as of the many meditation techniques that we learn and practice over the eight weeks, please see the class description page.
What lineage does your class derive from?
My teaching mostly is derived from the Vipassana/Theravada Buddhist meditative lineage and from the Japanese Zen Buddhist meditative lineage. I also however mix in teachings from ancient Indian Buddhism and Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, as well as teachings from Hinduism/Advaita, Taoism, Christianity, Judaism, and from Western academic and clinical psychology, literature, and philosophy. Basically, I enjoy bringing forth anything that can help you to develop the practice of being deeply self-aware and self-accepting.
What are some good introductory resources about meditation for a beginner to check out?
Please see this blog post that I wrote.
What can meditation do for me?
Meditation sometimes brings up aspects of mind and soul that we have been avoiding, before clearing them out – similar to physical surgery, things sometimes get worse before they get better. In the long term, however, what meditation provides for many people is :
- A feeling of rapture, energy, vitality, strength, fullness, lightness, buoyancy, bliss, delight, and excitement – “a flood of joy” (known by the term “piti” in ancient Buddhism)
- A feeling of serenity, tranquility, relaxation, calm, stillness, restfulness, unflappability, equanimity, lightness, quietness of mind, and peace (known by the term “passaddhi” in ancient Buddhism)
- A feeling of pleasure, ease, comfort, harmony, satisfaction, openness, spaciousness, appropriateness, at home-ness, wholeness, perfection, and well-being (known by the term “sukkha” in ancient Buddhism)
- Experiencing life as spontaneous, effortless, free, just happening – a lack of compulsion, or the rut of blind habit – a sense of spontaneity, choice, possibility, and free will – there is nothing we need to do, nothing we need to say, nothing we need to be – life moves as freely and smoothly as the ripples gently spreading on a still pond after single raindrop hits
- Feeling a free, unobstructed current of warm, refreshing, sweet, nectar-like energy, effervescent like champagne bubbles, flowing through the body and mind
- Open, buoyant, relaxed, vibrant, energized, healthy feelings in the body – greater bodily sensitivity, upright sitting posture become easier – may even be possibly improve or heal illness, improve the immune system, and/or lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- A sense of detachment from and amusement with issues, preoccupations, and neuroses that formerly been disturbing – as if they are just a show we are half watching
- An experience of our thinking minds as clear, focused, concentrated, powerful, alert, unwavering, attentive, steady, and settled
- An experience of our thinking minds as malleable, adaptable, and flexible
- Spontaneous, direct, and intuitive insights and perceptions (into the nature of self, mind, relationships, and into life in general) that are intelligent, accurate, wise, clear, and lack distortions
- Sensory perception that feels rich, interesting, pleasurable, real, fascinating, sparkly, vivid, deeply textured, and delightfully fresh – even with experiences that had previously been ordinary and boring
- Emotions that become purified and healthy, and work as clean motivators, guides, and directors of behavior (rather than as compulsive sources of destructive behavior)
- A feeling of being “in the groove” or “in the zone” when working, playing sports, engaging in creative pursuits, socializing with people
- Self-acceptance, dignity, self-understanding, a vibrant healthy pride in self, a healing and evaporating of painful shame, a pleasure in being alone, feeling more at ease socially, a feeling of clarity and honesty when looking others in the eye
- Behavior with other people that is more loving, warm, patient, understanding, accepting, empathetic, compassionate, moral, easy, open, and helpful – being a good listener, more “present” with people – fewer outbreaks of anger, destructive desire, defensiveness, pride, fear, insecurity, controlling, manipulativeness, and shame
- Freedom from compulsive and addictive behaviors, comparative ease in staying sober when we chose to, feeling able to choose reality over escaping into a bubble